The psalmist does not beat around the bush with YHWH. Confronted with the reality of exile and the destruction of the temple, He brings the questions and doubts of the people to YHWH. The people want to know WHY. Why have you rejected us forever (v. 1)? Why do you hold back your right hand (v.11)? They want to know what YHWH intends to do about the enemy not only destroying them, his people, but also his temple and name.
Look closely at the irony of the situation. YHWH’s foes are in the temple erecting the “signs” of their ‘victorious’ gods (v.4). Meanwhile, the people of YHWH are sign-less. No sign. No prophet (v. 9). Is YHWH defeated? Is he dead?
The psalmist does not seem to think so. In the midst of the peoples questions and doubts, he appeals in an ancient hymn to God, “my king” the one who brings salvation in midst of the earth (v. 12).
What’s great is how the psalmist unpacks the acts of salvation this king brought long ago in ancient times. In mythic language, the psalmist describes YHWH’s battle with the sea and the monsters and dragons that lay within it, such as, Leviathan.
It was you who split open the sea by your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters. It was you who crushed the heads of Leviathan and gave it as food to the creatures of the desert. (Ps 74:13-14)
This ancient battle with the sea and its forces either speaks of YHWH’s deliverance of the people through the Red Sea when he crushed the forces of Pharaoh or of his acts of creation when he subdued the primordial waters by giving them boundaries (Gen 1).
The next three verses without a doubt speak of YHWH's creative actions and display his control over water (which in the ancient world if uncontrolled [think of a tsunami] was considered a force of evil and death), his establishment of time (the cycle of day and night), and the seasons (the cycle of rainy and dry seasons). Don't miss this. These three elements are the necessities of life and its flourishing in an agrarian society. The psalmist appeals to YHWH for salvation by appealing to his acts of creation. In essence, his desire is for YHWH to recreate them, to restore life to them and their land. His hope is that YHWH will be prompted to action because the enemy mocks his name (v.18), his people are afflicted and their lives threatened (v.19), his covenant broken by violence (v.20), and his concern for the poor and needy to praise his name.
The creation theology within this psalm is amazing. It seems to be the psalmist understanding that YHWH’s acts of creating the world were in fact acts of salvation. This may help explain why YHWH’s acts of delivering Noah and his family through the flood and Israel through the Red Sea are recorded in creational language. What, then, might this tell us about the creation narrative in Gen 1? What might this tell us of man’s intended purpose within that narrative and our purpose today as a renewed humanity? I’ll leave it for you to ponder. Let me know what your thoughts . . .